By Laura Tucker
As a former journalist, I’m used to being scorned in the court of public opinion. About the only profession regarded with more derision is the legal profession, so I suppose as a current law student, that means I’m moving down in the world. The derision continues with The Daily Beast, which recently released a list of “Most Useless Majors,” on which journalism was named prominently.
I find The Daily Beast’s reasoning behind the choices suspect, questioning the logic behind these lists as any good journalist should. For one, it seems as though the reason for including these majors is the amount of money you will make after you get your degree (and I can attest that the pay in journalism is awful compared to other jobs that require a college degree). But some of us Satyriconistas have journalism degrees and not only took issue with the assessment that the major is “useless,” but we scoffed at it.
A journalism degree isn’t useless. In fact, it’s one of the most useful majors I could have possibly chosen.
Marc Randazza prefers hiring journalism and English majors at his firm because they actually know how to write. Both his bachelor’s and master’s are in journalism, “And I learned more about how to be a great lawyer from my journalism programs than I learned in my overpriced legal education,” he said. (See Randazza’s j-school alumni profile) “Further, I can teach anyone the skills they need to be a lawyer, but I don’t have the time to teach a 22 year old how to write coherently.”
J. Malcolm DeVoy IV, who earned his bachelor’s in communication, said, “While the degree itself was helpful, the opportunities that came with it – starting one newspaper at school and being the editor of another one with national distribution – were beneficial in practice. LRW teachers may not appreciate the kind of flare that real clients demand in zealously advocating their case. JP Morgan might not be amused by a pleading that invokes Bartleby the Scrivener or Dr. Who’s TARDIS in order to frame a difficult procedural issue. Clients embroiled in socially important free speech litigation appreciate it, though, and it seems to help courts understand the dispute.”
DeVoy agrees that journalism school is important to legal writing.
“I have much to learn in writing, and have been fortunate to work alongside people like Kurt Opsahl, Jason Schultz and Laurence Pulgram and see the work product they produce; in many ways, it has positively influenced my own work,” he said. “But for every attorney whose writing captures the light in Plato’s cave, there are dozens who suck. I mean really suck – even after years (decades!) of experience, and to a point where even I feel comfortable condemning it. In one case I’ve followed, the judge rejected a party’s motion because it was – in the judge’s own words – ‘incomprehensible.’ That level of advocacy is more common than anyone is willing to admit. It’s a shame, since that type of ethic drags down the profession, and needlessly increases the costs to an opposing party who has to do extra work to overcome such glaring defects.”
How to interview a client and a witness; how to deal with difficult people who are unwilling to give you the information you want; how to tell when someone is evading your question or lying; how to get the information you actually need from people; how to write tight and concise; how to write exactly what you mean; how to get work done on a strict deadline; how to act ethically with clients and sources—these are all skills I did not learn in law school, but in journalism school. In my legal process classes—which at Boyd School of Law mostly focus on writing but also include such skills as interviewing and negotiation—the things I learned in journalism school gave me a great advantage.
As a law clerk for a busy litigation boutique, I utilize many of my journalism skills on an almost weekly basis. When I applied for the job, Marc was interested in little more than my journalism training in making his hiring decision. Most of my interview questions were about my journalism experience as the founding editor of the Boulder City Review in Nevada, copy editor and reporter at the Las Vegas-based View Neighborhood Newspapers, and editor-in-chief of UNLV’s undergraduate newspaper, The Rebel Yell.
I had a good journalism career, and the skills I learned in J-school at the UNLV Greenspun School of Journalism from such fabulous professors as Mary Hausch, and others like her—who taught me how to be ethical, how to write, and how to be a bull dog—were invaluable to my career and continue to serve me well in the legal field.
“If you want to be a lawyer, what you learn in J-school gives you a real advantage over those who didn’t attend,” said Randazza.
Journalism isn’t a useless major but journalism as a profession has hit rock bottom and that is what the public ridicules
I have to disagree a little. While it’s true that traditional journalism is going by the wayside, the medium is evolving and adapting to how people get their information. Granted, it’s evolving at a much slower pace than it needs to be going, and there’s a lot of job loss. There is a reason I chose to leave.
People don’t like journalists because they picture cheesy tv talking heads doing stories on inconsequential things, or they don’t like someone poking around in their business. But there are still journalists who are providing a great service by reporting on stories that people should know about. When people cease to seek out news, that’s when journalism will hit rock bottom. And I don’t see that extreme happening anytime soon.
Communication is arguably the most valuable skill in any profession, both for personal advancement and career competency. Journalism is one of, if not the best, profession for learning those skills, apart from sales (though skills gained through sales communication training tend to be acutely specialized). While journalism may not currently provide many high-level entry or mid-level jobs, it’s short-sighted to believe this will always be the case. Times change, and industries with them. That being said, Tucker’s insight into journalism’s relevance to the law industry can be broadened to include myriad professions. I applaud the author for recognizing this. Our public would do well to have more citizens trained in the skills taught to journalists; perhaps there would be fewer conflicts due to miscommunication and less incompetency resulting from poor communication. There would also likely be a greater social responsibility attached to government oversight and protection of rights.
The reason Journalism, and probably most of the other majors on the list, are considered worthless is based off of the number of students applying for the degree, earning it, amount of debt incurred persuing it, and percentage actually employed in the field after graduation. One of the biggest concerns on that list, at least to anyone with brains, is the debt, which has become staggering. Journalism doesn’t pay, and everyone has a student loan nowadays.
That’s true. I was lucky enough to have a full-ride in undergrad and graduate without any loan debt. I might be viewing things a little differently if I had needed to take out student loans. Whenever I talk to people who are thinking about pursuing a journalism degree (or really, any other major), I challenge them to think very hard about if they can really afford it, especially given that finding a journalism job is extremely hard right now. I had to really put myself out there to get my journalism job, and a lot of the people who graduated with me weren’t as lucky. And, once you get a journalism job, you’re lucky to make enough to cover your standard bills. Most of the journalists I know who are single have roommates.